Youth: From Classroom to Workplace?

CRS Report for Congress
Youth: From Classroom to Workplace?
April 20, 2005
Linda Levine
Specialist in Labor Economics
Domestic Social Policy Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

Youth: From Classroom to Workplace?
Much attention has been devoted to the implications of the aging of the U.S.
population for the future supply of labor to the nation’s employers, but little of the
discourse about remedies has addressed the younger members of the working-age
population, who are in part the focus of legislation being considered for
reauthorization by the 109th Congress (the Workforce Investment Act, the Perkins
Vocational and Technical Education Act, and the Higher Education Act).
Specifically, are the youngest replacements for retiring baby-boomers being fully
utilized in the sense that most teenagers and young adults successfully transition from
the classroom to the workplace? Which 16-24 year olds are, instead, more likely to
impose costs on society rather than contribute to the economy as taxpayers?
After holding many jobs within the first decade of joining the labor force, most
youth settle into fairly stable situations by their mid-twenties. However, a small
share of the youth population (perhaps 15% depending upon definition, ages, and
years), who number some three to five million, leave the classroom at risk of not
making a firm commitment to the formal labor market. They appear to include
young single mothers who rely on government benefits, for a time, as well as their
families and partners; young males (principally) with criminal records that make it
difficult to obtain steady jobs upon release from incarceration; youth sporadically
employed in low-wage jobs who also participate in the underground economy; and
youth with disabilities.
A key attribute of these disengaged or disconnected youth is their limited
educational attainment (high school dropouts and graduates), which argues for
strategies that encourage youth to continue their studies (e.g., mentoring programs
for elementary and secondary school students, and Pell Grants as well as other
financial aid for postsecondary school students). Being out-of-school and out-of-
work appears to be more prevalent among young females than males, and among
black and Hispanic than white youth. In addition to these personal attributes, other
risk factors for a youth’s marginal attachment to the labor force include the
characteristics of the neighborhoods in which they live (e.g., area poverty and
employment rates); the proximity of those neighborhoods to jobs; and the
characteristics of their families (e.g., labor force status and incarceration of parents).
These relationships indicate that while education and training policies meant to raise
the human capital of youth may play a necessary part in promoting their integration
into the labor force, they are not likely sufficient ones. The results of empirical
research suggest that a comprehensive youth employment policy would include
training programs that provide, among other things, work experience to young
students raised in poor inner-city neighborhoods; delinquency prevention measures,
particularly for low-income children with incarcerated family and friends; changes
to public transportation and to housing patterns to give at-risk youth greater access
to areas of job growth; enhanced enforcement of employment and housing
discrimination laws; and neighborhood workforce as well as community/economic
development initiatives.
This report will be updated as warranted.

Youth Unemployment..............................................1
Factors Contributing to Youth Joblessness: Implications for Public Policy.....4
School Enrollment.............................................5
Serving In-School and Out-of-School Youth.....................8
Educational Attainment........................................10
Trends .................................................13
Disconnected or Disengaged Youth...........................13
Other Factors Affecting the Labor Force Status of Youth..............16
The Neighborhood........................................16
Kith and Kin.............................................17
Place of Residence vis-à-vis Jobs............................18
Concluding Remarks..............................................20
List of Tables
Table 1. Unemployment Rates by Age, 2004............................4
Table 2. Labor Force and School Enrollment Status of 16-24 Year Olds by
Selected Demographic Characteristics, October 2004..................6
Table 3. Labor Force Status and Educational Attainment of Out-of-School

16-24 Year Olds, October 2004..................................12

Youth: From Classroom to Workplace?
Much time and attention has been devoted to the implications of the aging of the
U.S. population for the nation’s old-age social insurance system and for its labor
market. A good deal of discussion has focused on the tax burden workers could
shoulder to support the growth in retirees if Social Security and Medicare are left
unchanged, and on the labor shortages employers could face as greater numbers of
baby-boomers reach the traditional retirement ages.
A part of the discourse about remedies to potential labor shortages has involved
older persons themselves and changes in immigration policy. Little consideration has
been given to the role that might be played by the younger members of the working-
age population, who are in part the focus of legislation being considered for
reauthorization by the 109th Congress (the Workforce Investment Act, the Carl D.
Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, and the Higher Education Act).
Specifically, are the youngest replacements for retiring baby-boomers being fully
utilized in the sense that most teenagers and young adults successfully transition from
the classroom to the workplace? Which 16-24 year olds are, instead, more likely to1
impose costs on society rather than contribute to the economy as taxpayers? This
report will examine the experience of youth in the labor force and attempt to shed
some light on these matters.
Youth Unemployment
Some consider the labor force status of youth to be of even greater consequence
than that of other age groups because the early experiences of 16-24 year olds (e.g.,
sporadic employment) could set the tone for their subsequent working lives (e.g.,
failure to develop good work attitudes and to accumulate skills). The statistic usually
cited to support the perspective that young persons have chronically had more
difficulties than others in the labor market is the group’s comparatively high2
unemployment rates. Indeed, absent cyclical fluctuations, the unemployment rate

1According to Andrew Sum, Ishwar Khatiwada, Nathan Pond, and Mykhaylo Trub’skyy
(Left Behind in the Labor Market: Labor Market Problems of the Nation’s Out-of-School,
Young Adult Populations, Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University, Nov.
2002), one-third of out-of-school and out-of-work 16-24 year olds received assistance
through one of the following six government transfer programs during 2001: Medicaid, Food
Stamps, cash rental subsidies or public housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,
Supplemental Security Income, and Unemployment Insurance. (Hereafter cited as Sum et
al., Left Behind in the Labor Market.)
2Because there often is an inverse relationship between seniority and who gets laid off and
because firms are likely to have made comparatively small investments in their youngest

of teenagers (16-19 year olds) has for decades been about four times that of adults
(age 25 and older), and the unemployment rate of young adults (20-24 year olds) has
been about twice that of adults. In addition, youth account for a disproportionate
share of all unemployed persons: 16-24 year olds comprise 15.1% of the labor force,
but they are twice that share of the unemployed (32.4%).3
The high incidence of youth unemployment is partly related to their
comparatively frequent movements into and out of the labor force. In 2004, 37.9%
of all unemployed persons versus 63.3% of unemployed 16-24 year olds were
seeking their very first jobs or were searching for positions after having been out of
the workforce.4 Not surprisingly, such individuals are very likely to encounter some
spell of unemployment while they learn how to get a job and gather information on
the kinds of jobs available to them.
The educational calendar exacerbates the probability of unemployment for
young labor force (re)entrants. They typically flood the labor market in May and
June searching for summer jobs after the school year has ended or seeking initial jobs
upon dropping out or graduating. While the regularly occurring swell in the labor
supply of youth coincides with increased demand for workers in some seasonal
industries, this is not the case for most firms in the economy.
The high unemployment rate of youth also is associated with their relatively
frequent job changes, with each transition potentially involving a spell of
unemployment. About two-thirds of all job changes occur within the first 10 years
of a young person’s working life, during which time he/she works for eight
employers on average.5 This initial period of frequent job turnover has been viewed

2 (...continued)
workers, youth are among the first let go when employers respond to reduced demand for
their goods and services during a recession. The unemployed youths must then compete
with experienced laid off adults for the dwindling number of available jobs. Another
reaction of firms to recessions is to stop hiring, which presents more of a problem for labor
force entrants who are disproportionately young. The unemployment rate of 16-24 year olds
thus increases to a greater extent than that of adults during a cyclical downturn. In contrast,
good economic times operate to the relative advantage of young workers: when product
demand is high and labor is in short supply, firms become more willing to hire those they
consider less desirable such as young inexperienced persons. For more information on the
2001 recession’s impact on young workers see Andrew Sum and Robert Taggart, The
National Economic Downturn and Deteriorating Youth Employment Prospects: The Case
for a Young Adult Jobs Stimulus Program, Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern
University, Boston, MA, Nov. 2001.
3Annual average data for 1979, 1989, 2000, and 2004 compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS) from the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS), available at
[] .
4Unpublished BLS data from the CPS. Note: Reasons for unemployment are new labor
force entrants, reentrants, job-losers (i.e., persons on temporary layoff and those who have
permanently lost their jobs or have completed temporary jobs), and job-leavers.
5Jonathan R. Veum and Andrea B. Weiss, “Education and the Work Histories of Young

in both a positive and negative light: a time during which new labor force members
try out different positions and work environments until they find the optimal match;
a time of employer reluctance to hire inexperienced workers for career ladder
positions and of young workers in dead-end jobs having little reason to form a lasting
attachment to any particular firm. Analyses of data from the National Longitudinal
Survey of Youth generally have found that while the typical young worker does not
get a long-term job (of three years duration) immediately after leaving school, he/she
does by about age 22.6
Educational attainment appears to greatly influence the length of time it takes
for a young school-leaver to find a stable position. Despite high school dropouts
joining the workforce several years before graduates, the typical dropout takes much
longer to settle into his/her first long-term job (10.8 years versus 5.8 years, or at age
29 versus age 24).7 The typical youth with some postsecondary schooling takes less
than one-half the time of a high school graduate to find a good job match (2.7 years).
The typical youth with at least a bachelor’s degree takes less than one-fourth the time
of a high school graduate, perhaps partly reflecting the greater specific skills already
acquired by those with more schooling and their superior knowledge of the job
market in their chosen fields.
Time—that is to say, getting older and gaining experience and/or education—
thus tends to improve a person’s labor market situation. This is further demonstrated
in Table 1. The average unemployment rate of 16-24 year olds in 2004 was 11.9%,
compared to a much lower rate of 4.4% among adults. Even within the youth labor
force, the unemployment rate of young adults (9.4%) approaches one-half that of
teenagers (17.0%). The inverse relationship between age and unemployment rate
holds true, as well, for older as opposed to younger teenagers and within the age-
range of young adults. Further, according a longitudinal survey of 18-27 year olds,
the rate of increase in number of unemployment spells diminishes with age and
remains fairly constant after reaching 24 years old.8

5 (...continued)
Adults,” Monthly Labor Review, Apr. 1993. (Hereafter cited as Veum and Weiss, Education
and the Work Histories of Young Adults.)
6Julie A. Yates, “The Transition from School to Work: Education and Work Experiences,”
Monthly Labor Review, Feb. 2005 (Hereafter cited as Yates, The Transition from School to
Work); and Jacob Alex Klerman and Lynn A. Karoly, “Young Men and the Transition to
Stable Employment,” Monthly Labor Review, Aug. 1994. Note: The National Longitudinal
Survey of Youth (NLSY) is one of a number of surveys sponsored and directed by the BLS
that follow groups of individuals over time. In 1979, a longitudinal survey of 14-22 year
olds was begun. The research discussed above and elsewhere in this report that reference
the NLSY are based upon the 1979 cohort. A somewhat younger group (12-17 year olds)
began to be surveyed in 1997. Researchers are now analyzing data from the NLSY97.
7Yates, The Transition from School to Work.
8Veum and Weiss, Education and the Work Histories of Young Adults.

Table 1. Unemployment Rates by Age, 2004
All workers (age 16 and older)5.5
Youth (16-24 year olds)11.9
Teenagers (16-19 year olds)17.0
Young adults (20-24 year olds)9.4
Adults (age 25 and older)4.4
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from the Current Population Survey (CPS).
Factors Contributing to Youth Joblessness:
Implications for Public Policy
The preceding analysis is not meant to imply that youths’ early experiences in
the labor market can safely be ignored because most will settle into better
circumstances, or even that all youth will participate in the workforce. Indeed, for
some 16-24 year olds (e.g., teenage males), employment in the civilian
noninstitutional and military sectors of the economy has become less common at the
same time that their presence in such institutions as correctional facilities—where
they largely are unavailable for work and which depresses their job opportunities9
after release—has become more common. Policymakers therefore may want to
determine which individual characteristics incline youth to become less firmly
attached than others to the labor market and the kinds of initiatives that could
facilitate the transition of these at-risk youth from the classroom to the workplace.

9U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO), What Is Happening to Youth Employment
Rates?, Washington, DC, Nov. 2004 (Hereafter cited as CBO, What Is Happening to Youth
Employment Rates?); and Jeremy Travis, Amy L. Solomon, and Michelle Waul, From
Prison to Home: The Dimensions and Consequences of Prisoner Reentry (Washington, DC:
Urban Institute, June 2001).

School Enrollment
Whether youngsters are enrolled in school has a considerable effect on their
connection to the labor market. Young students are employed or actively seeking
jobs (i.e., they are in the labor force) less than half as often as non-students. The
increased rate of school enrollment over time consequently has reduced work activity
among youth from what it otherwise would have been. (Column 4 of Table 2 shows
current labor force participation rates by status of school enrollment.)
At present, 54.4% of all 16-24 year olds in the civilian noninstitutional
population are employed. Despite rising markedly over the years, the employment
rate of students (41.1%) remains considerably below that of non-enrolled youth
(70.8%). Notably, among out-of-school youth, African American males (62.9%) and
females (57.5%) are much less likely to have jobs as are Hispanic females (53.2%).
(Column 6 of Table 2 shows the employment-to-population ratio or the employment
More than three of every five young workers who are unemployed are not
enrolled in school (1.6 million out of 2.6 million). Blacks are overrepresented among
unemployed out-of-school youth: African Americans comprise 27.0% of
unemployed non-student youth compared to just 14.6% of all out-of-school
youngsters in the labor force. The unemployment rates of youth no longer in school
are especially high, at 20.0% among 16-19 year olds and 10.7% among 20-24 year
old workers. In contrast, relatively fewer teenagers (14.4%) and young adults
(7.0%) who are both in school and in the labor force are unemployed. (Columns 7
and 8 of Table 2 present unemployment data.)

Selected Demographic Characteristics,
October 2004
(numbers in thousands)
Civilian labor force
Civ ilia n Employment Unemployment
noninsti-Not inLabor force as
tutionallaborpercent ofEmployed as %Unemployment
CharacteristicpopulationforceTotalpopulationNumberof populationNumberrate
l 16-24 year olds36,50422,48461.619,84754.42,63711.714,020
ro lled 20,173 9,293 46.1 8 ,283 41.1 1 ,010 10.9 10,880
iki/CRS-RL3287119 13,047 4,810 36.9 4 ,116 31.5 694 14.4 8 ,237
g/w24 7,125 4,483 62.9 4 ,167 58.5 316 7.0 2 ,643
leak high school9,3722,98231.82,49026.649316.56,389
://wiki college10,8016,33158.45,79453.65178.24,490
Two-year college2,6841,86769.51,67362.319310.4818
Four-year college8,1174,44454.84,12050.83247.33,672
Full-time college students9,2564,96753.74,53444.04338.74,289
Part-time college students1,5451,34487.01,26081.5846.3201
t enrolled16,03113,19180.811,56470.81,62712.33,140
19 3,210 2,322 72.4 1 ,858 57.9 464 20.0 887
24 13,121 10,868 82.8 9 ,705 74.0 1 ,163 10.7 2 ,253

Civilian labor force
Civ ilia n Employment Unemployment
noninsti-Not inLabor force as
tutionallaborpercent ofEmployed as %Unemployment
CharacteristicpopulationforceTotalpopulationNumberof populationNumberrate
es 8 ,560 7,485 87.4 6 ,578 76.9 907 12.1 1 ,075
males 7 ,771 5,706 73.4 4 ,986 64.2 720 12.6 2 ,066
ite 12,842 10,486 81.7 9 ,441 73.5 1 ,045 10.0 2 ,356
Male 6 ,855 6,096 88.9 5 ,476 79.9 621 10.2 758
Female 5 ,897 4,390 73.3 3 ,965 66.2 425 9.7 1 ,597
iki/CRS-RL32871ack 2,465 1,923 78.0 1 ,483 60.2 440 22.9 542
s.orMale 1 ,216 977 80.4 764 62.9 213 21.8 238
Female 1 ,250 946 75.7 719 57.5 227 24.0 304
httpispanic origin3,5412,73777.32,42968.6 30811.2804
Male 1 ,984 1,771 89.3 1 ,582 79.7 189 10.7 213
Female 1 ,487 915 61.5 792 53.2 123 13.5 572
BLS, College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2004 High School Graduates, USDL 05-487, Mar. 25, 2005, and unpublished BLS tabulations from the Oct. 2004 supplement
e CPS.
Subtotals may not add to totals due to rounding.

Serving In-School and Out-of-School Youth. Given these figures, it
could be argued that government resources should be more focused on out-of-school
youth—particularly since they, unlike students, do not have a socially acceptable
alternative to participation in the labor force. It was estimated, for example, that time
spent out of the workforce by 18-21 year old non-students, and intermittent low-wage
employment when they are in the labor force, increases the chance of youth engaging10
in criminal activities. The risk of criminal involvement was found to be lower
among students, which perhaps reflects their “making an investment to enhance
future stability,” much like the out-of-school youth with good jobs were
“occupationally stable” and hence less likely to engage in criminal activities. These
results led the researchers to conclude that “it is the stability that goes with good
work (or with academic involvement) that inhibits criminality.”11 Positive individual
and societal outcomes thus might flow from providing services to both out-of-school
and in-school youth. If out-of-school youth receive skills training that enables them
to obtain good jobs, they might become more strongly committed to the formal labor
market and be less inclined to engage in illegal activities. And, helping youngsters
continue their studies (through outreach programs of the Higher Education Act, Pell
Grants and other scholarships, and work-study programs for example) might enable
them to later enter the workforce better qualified for good jobs.
Another analysis, based upon a representative sample of 11-20 year olds from
the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, determined that the
relationship between the quality of future job opportunities and violent delinquency
even earlier in the life course as individuals move through adolescence. It is here
that impressions about the future begin to form. When that future does not
appear promising, adolescents are more likely to become disinterested in formal
education and perhaps seek out alternative sources of status among peer cliques12
or possibly gangs.
The estimated effect of a future of low-paying jobs on adolescent delinquency was
dampened when school attachment and achievement were taken into account. The
result appears to reaffirm the desirability of dropout prevention strategies, particularly

10Robert D. Crutchfield and Susan R. Pitchford, “Work and Crime: The Effects of Labor
Stratification,” Social Forces, vol. 76, no. 1, Sept. 1997.
11Ibid., p. 112.
12Paul E. Bellair, Vincent J. Roscigno, and Thomas L. McNulty, “Linking Local Labor
Market Opportunity to Violent Adolescent Delinquency,” Journal of Research in Crime and
Delinquency, vol. 40, no. 1, Feb. 2003, p. 27. Note: The National Longitudinal Study of
Adolescent Health (Add Health) is a nationally representative study that examines the
causes of health-related behaviors of adolescents in grades 7 through 12 and their outcomes
in early adulthood. The study is intended to explore how social contexts (e.g., families,
friends, and neighborhoods) affect youths’ health and risk behaviors. The National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development issued a grant, co-funded with 17 other federal
agencies, in 1994 to begin the study. Information at the individual, family, school, and
community level were collected in two waves between 1994 and 1996. A third wave,
undertaken in 2001 and 2002, involved the re-interview of 18-26 year old Add Health

for students in low-income families (a factor independently found to be related to
delinquency during adolescence). One such federally funded activity for at-risk
middle school students (grades 4-8) is the mentoring program administered by the
Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.13 In addition, The
No Child Left Behind Act (Title I, Part H) established another grant program for
dropout prevention and re-entry for students in grades 6-12 that includes counseling
and mentoring at-risk students among other activities.
The importance of intervention early in a child’s life to facilitate subsequent
labor force participation is underscored by the findings from a longitudinal analysis
of 3-21 year olds in Dunedin, New Zealand. (The researchers noted that the results
from their study are applicable to other developed countries based upon cross-
national comparisons of social problems.) Holding education variables constant
among those in the nationally representative sample at the typical ages of movement
from the classroom to the workplace, the authors estimated that the probability of
unemployment during the transition was greater if the youth had failed to develop
good reading skills, been uninvolved in school, engaged in antisocial behavior, and
had grown up in single-parent families. Because these risk factors for unemployment
upon entering the labor force were found to span multiple domains (school, home,
and society) and to be present early in children’s lives, the authors suggested that the
most effective preventive measures are multimodal strategies implemented during
the preschool years, such as “Headstart programs that have significant social and
economic benefits that can endure through young adulthood.”14
Other studies have shown that working while a student helps to ease the
transition to the labor force shortly after leaving high school. The inverse
relationship estimated between neighborhood poverty rates and high school students’
employment rates suggests that poor adolescents could have particular difficulty
entering the labor market.15 Publicly sponsored work experience programs for
students living in low-income communities might consequently enhance their
employment prospects upon exiting high school (e.g., the summer employment
opportunities program under the Workforce Investment Act).
Having a job can be important to students and to the households in which they
live for more immediate reasons. Over one-half of students enrolled full-time in two-
or four-year colleges also are in the workforce, as are almost nine-tenths of students

13For more information see CRS Report RL32633, Mentoring Programs Funded by the
Federal Government Dedicated to Disadvantaged Youth: Issues and Activities, by Edith
Fairman Cooper. (Hereafter cited as CRS Report 32633, Mentoring Programs Funded by
the Federal Government Dedicated to Disadvantaged Youth.)
14Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt, Bradley R. Entner Wright, and Phil A. Silva, “Early
Failure in the Labor Market: Childhood and Adolescent Predictors of Unemployment in the
Transition to Adulthood,” American Sociological Review, vol. 63, June 1998, p. 445.
15“Expanding the Number and Quality of the In-School Work Experiences of High School
Youth,” in Andrew Sum, Neeta Fogg, and Garth Mangum, Confronting the Youth
Demographic Challenge: The Labor Market Prospects of Out-of-School Young Adults, Sar
Levitan Center for Social Policy Studies, Institute for Policy Studies, Johns Hopkins
University, Policy Issues Monograph 00-01, Oct. 2000.

enrolled part-time. The absence of paychecks among the 517,000 unemployed
college students might hamper their pursuit of additional education. (See Table 2.)
Wage loss due to unemployment among students might impose a hardship on their
families as well. Even the fairly small paychecks of teenagers attending school—
694,000 of whom were unemployed in October 2004—might contribute substantially
to the economic well-being of single-parent families in which the parents themselves
hold low-wage jobs, for example. Although virtually all respondents in a nationally
representative sample of high school students surveyed in early 2000 indicated that
they worked to get extra spending money, 16% also reported that their families
needed their earnings and 59% said their wages were going toward saving for college16
or other long-term goals. Hence, government support of student employment could
have short-term and long-term effects that extend beyond the youths themselves.
Educational Attainment
Typically, the unemployment rate of individuals varies inversely with their
educational attainment. In the case of out-of-school youth, unemployment rates
range from 20.4% for those with less than a high school diploma to 6.6% for those
with at least a bachelor’s degree. (See Table 3.) Moreover, 16-24 year olds who do
not complete high school and those who stop their education upon obtaining a high
school diploma (or the equivalent) contribute disproportionately to total youth
unemployment: out-of-school youth who lack a high school diploma and those who
graduate but do not pursue postsecondary education comprise about one-half of all
unemployed 16-24 year olds, which greatly surpasses their representation in the youth
labor force at 36.5%.17 Accordingly, dropout prevention programs directed toward
elementary and secondary (K-12) school students might lower the incidence of
unemployment among youth (e.g., vocational education).
Conversely, as shown in Table 3, the employment rate varies directly with
educational attainment. A little over half of all out-of-school youth in the civilian
noninstitutional population who do not complete high school are employed,
compared to at least four of every five youth with some postsecondary education.
Although young females’ employment rates are below those of males at each level
of schooling, the disparity becomes progressively less as educational attainment rises:
for those without a high school diploma (40.7% among young females versus 62.3%
among young males), the difference in employment rates is more than four times that
of youth with at least a bachelor’s degree (85.2% among young females versus 90.4%
among young males).18

16Ellen Galinsky, Stacy S. Kim, James T. Bond, and Kimberlee Salmond, Youth &
Employment: Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Workforce, Families and Work Institute, NY,
NY, undated.
17The 10.6% of out-of-school youth in the labor force without high school diplomas account
for 18.4% of all unemployed youth. The 25.9% of out-of-school youth in the labor force
whose education stopped at high school graduation account for 31.1% of all unemployed
18Unless indicated otherwise, data in this report are based on published and unpublished
BLS tabulations of responses to the Oct. 2004 supplement to the CPS.

Similarly, the equalizing effect of educational attainment is evident in the
narrowed gap in the employment rates of out-of-school youth by race. Among high
school dropouts, 57.8% of white youths have jobs compared to just 35.2% of black
youths. The gulf is half that among young high school graduates, at 73.9% for whites
and 62.3% for African Americans. The difference in employment rates of 16-24 year
old whites (89.1%) and blacks (81.0%) no longer attending school diminishes further
for those with at least a bachelor’s degree.
This pattern is repeated when educational attainment data from the CPS are
further disaggregated by geographic location. For example, the employment rate of
out-of-school youth who lack a high school diploma is lower, on average, for those
living in central cities (67.9%) versus suburbs (73.2%); yet, regardless of place of
residence, there is near equality of employment rates among 16-24 year olds with at
least a bachelor’s degree (86%-87%).

Table 3. Labor Force Status and Educational Attainment of Out-of-School 16-24 Year Olds, October 2004
(numbers in thousands)
Civilian labor force
Employment Unemployment
Civ ilia n
noninstitutionalNot inPercent ofPercent of
Characteristicpopulationlabor forceTotalpopulationNumberpopulationNumberRate
l 16-24 year olds36,50422,48461.619,84754.42,63711.714,020
l out-of-school 16-24 year olds16,03113,19180.811,56470.81,62712.33,140
ss than a high school diploma3,5522,38567.11,89953.548620.41,167
iki/CRS-RL32871gh school graduate only7,1335,83181.85,01270.381914.11,302
s.orme college or associate degree3,3913,02389.12,74981.12749.9367
least a bachelor’s degree1,8281,68792.31,57586.21126.6141
http BLS, College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2004 High School Graduates, USDL 05-487, Mar. 25, 2005, and unpublished BLS tabulations from the Oct. 2004 supplement
e CPS.

Trends. The employment rate of out-of-school 16-24 year olds by gender has
moved in opposite directions over the past two decades. It has trended downward
among males and upward among females, with the divergence especially notable
among less educated African American youth. Surprisingly, the employment rate of
young out-of-school black males with a high school diploma or less fell more sharply
during the 1990s boom than it had during the 1980s (from 62% in 1979 to 59% in19
1989 to 52% in 2000, approximate peaks in the business cycle). After estimating
that changes over time in personal characteristics and in labor market conditions
explain little of the decline in employment among young less educated black males,
the researchers postulated that
!greater efforts in recent years to establish paternity and to enforce court-
ordered child support may have deterred their participation in the formal
economy, as could have
!high rates of incarceration and the criminal records that then attach to the
individuals (with possible spillover effects on the employment of African
American males more generally).
Indeed, the paternity establishment and child support enforcement provisions in the
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act reportedly are
imposing a substantial “tax” on the paychecks of those ex-offender non-custodial
parents who are able to obtain jobs.20
In contrast, the employment rate of less educated young black females no longer
in school rose during the 1990s to such an extent that it surpassed the (albeit low)
employment rate of their Hispanic counterparts. “Welfare reform, an expanded
Earned Income Tax Credit, and other policy changes likely contributed to this trend,
in addition to the strong prevailing economic conditions.”21 The still low
employment rates of young less educated minority females could be partly accounted
for by comparatively high birth rates.
Disconnected or Disengaged Youth. The terms “disconnected youth” and
“disengaged youth” have been used to describe young persons who are marginally
attached to such societal institutions as the labor market. There is no universally
agreed upon definition of the group.
Educational Attainment. Educational attainment is closely linked with a
youth’s probability of being included in this group, however it is defined. According
to one analysis of October 2000 CPS data, for example, almost 800,000 or 4.5% of

19Paul Offner and Harry Holzer, Left Behind in the Labor Market: Recent Employment
Trends Among Young Black Men (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2002).
(Hereafter cited as Offner and Holzer, Left Behind in the Labor Market.) See also Elise
Richer, Abbey Frank, Mark Greenberg, Steve Savner, and Vicki Turetsky, Boom Times A
Bust: Declining Employment Among Less-Educated Young Men (Washington, DC: Center
for Law and Social Policy, July 2003).
20Maria L. Buck, Getting Back to Work: Employment Programs for Ex-Offenders
(Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures, 2000).
21Offner and Holzer, Left Behind in the Labor Market, p. 4.

23-27 year olds in the civilian noninstitutional population are not in school, not in the
labor force, not disabled, and not married. Social isolation, based on this
conceptualization, is most prevalent among young adults who fail to complete high
school, at 11.0%. The likelihood of disconnection is more than halved, to 5.2%,
among young high school graduates. For youth with some postsecondary education,
the share falls further to 3.3%. Disconnection is rarest among young adults with at
least a bachelor’s degree (2.2%).22
The importance of educational attainment to successfully transitioning to
adulthood is further demonstrated by its explicit inclusion in the Annie E. Casey
Foundation’s definition of disconnected youth in the Kids Count book. The
definition is 18-24 year olds not enrolled in school and not working who have
obtained, at most, a high school diploma. In 2002, over 3.8 million youth—15% of
the age group in the civilian noninstitutional population—fit this definition of
di sengagem ent . 23
Gender and Race/Ethnicity. Gender and race/ethnicity appear to be
associated with the probability of disconnection as well. For example, a larger share
of 23-27 year old women than men at each level of educational attainment up to but
not including a bachelor’s degree are estimated to be out-of-school, out-of-work, not24
disabled, and unmarried. Examination of a younger age group—16-24 year olds—
and based upon a broader definition of detachment—not in school and not working
—similarly reveals disconnection is somewhat more prevalent among females than
males (15% and 11%, respectively, in 2003). Black (20%) and Hispanic (18%) youth
also are much more likely to be out-of-school and out-of-work than the average 16-

24 year old (13%). And, poor youth (28%) as well as high school dropouts (44%)25

and graduates (25%) experience detachment at well above-average rates.
Incarceration. All the definitions of disconnection discussed above are
limited to the civilian noninstitutional population. They therefore omit such persons
as inmates of prisons and jails, the majority of whom are minority males (non-
Hispanic blacks and Hispanics).26 Another study that added residents of institutions
and active-duty personnel in the Armed Forces to October 2000 CPS data found the
rate of disconnection among 16-19 year old males rose from 8% to 10%, and among

22Brett Brown, Kristin Moore, and Sharon Bzostek, A Portrait of Well-Being in Early
Adulthood: A Report of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (Washington, DC: Child
Trends, Oct. 2003). (Hereafter cited as Brown, Moore, and Bzostek, A Portrait of Well-
Being in Early Adulthood.)
23The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2004 Kids Count Data Book, available at
[ h t t p : / / dscount .or g] .
24Brown, Moore, and Bzostek, A Portrait of Well-Being in Early Adulthood.
25J. Wirt, S. Choy, P. Rooney, S. Provasnik, A. Sen, and R. Tobin, The Condition of
Education: 2004 (Washington, DC: GPO, 2004), Indicator 13: Youth Neither Enrolled Nor
26U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at
Midyear 2003, May 2004.

20-24 year old males, from 11% to 13%.27 In contrast, inclusion of these population
groups had no effect on the incidence of detachment among females, which remained
at 9% for teenagers and 18% for young adults. Thus, according to this
conceptualization, the incidence of detachment remains highest among young
females, many of whom could be single mothers who depend on their families (e.g.,
parents and partners) and government (e.g., benefits under the Temporary Assistance
for Needy Families, TANF, program) to support them while raising their children.
Another analysis included as disconnected youth those 18-24 year olds confined
in local jails and in state or federal prisons after being convicted of a crime as well
as unmarried 18-24 year olds with a high school degree or less who had been
unemployed for one or more years. At any point during the 1997-2001 period, the
researchers estimated that 7% or almost 1.8 million young adults experienced long
spells of unemployment (1.7 million) or were incarcerated (420,000).28 A small
majority were male (59% or 1 million), who accounted for 8% of the 18-24 year old
male population. The 728,000 disengaged females accounted for 6% of the 18-24
year old female population. Almost one-fourth of the disconnected males were
incarcerated compared to just 3% of females. Unexpectedly, the share of mothers
among disconnected females did not exceed that of non-mothers until age 22, with
two out of five living with their minor child. Nearly all the mothers had their first
child between 14 and 20, and half of them reported welfare receipt.
Many more of these detached males than females reported having a disability
that prevented them from working (21% and 10%, respectively).29 The early onset
of disabilities (before age 22) appears to hamper attachment to the labor market both
directly and indirectly, through a lesser likelihood of completing high school.30 More
specifically, 13% of the difference in employment rates of young adults with and
without disabilities was estimated to be due to differences in the groups’ educational
attainment; the remainder, to the existence of the disability itself and all other
Yet a third study expanded the concept of disconnection to include incarcerated
young males. It estimated that in 2001, some 5.2 million out of 35.0 million 16-24
year olds in the civilian noninstitutional population (or 14.8%) were neither in school
nor working. The researchers then added the nearly 400,000 males age 18-24 in U.S.
jails and prisons to their estimate of out-of-school out-of-work youth and surmised
that 5.6 million might be a more complete count of detached youth.31

27CBO, What Is Happening to Youth Employment Rates?.
28Michael Wald and Tia Martinez, Connected by 25: Improving the Life Chances of the
Country’s Most Vulnerable 14-24 Year Olds, Menlo Park, CA, William and Flora Hewlett
Foundation Working Paper, Nov. 2003.
29Ib i d .
30Pamela Loprest and Elaine Maag, The Relationship between Early Disability Onset and
Education and Employment (Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 2003).
31Sum, et al., Left Behind in the Labor Market.

Place of Residence. A substantial share (40%) of the out-of-school out-of-
work youth in the civilian noninstitutional population live in the nation’s 50 most32
populous metropolitan areas. A slight majority of disengaged youth in these
metropolitan areas are African American and Hispanic (51%) compared to their
lesser presence on a national basis (40%). When the focus narrows to the
composition of detached youth in the 10 most populous metropolitan areas, the
minority composition rises to 71%. The chance of disconnection is greater for out-
of-school youth living in the central cities compared to suburbs of metropolitan areas.
Other Factors Affecting the Labor Force Status of Youth
The foregoing discussion suggests that in addition to personal attributes (school
enrollment, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, and gender) there are other factors
(student work experience, future job quality, incarceration, and place of residence)
that affect a youth’s commitment to the labor market. The probability of a youth
successfully transitioning from the classroom to the workplace might be mediated by:
!the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which they live (e.g., area
employment and poverty rates),
!the proximity of those neighborhoods to jobs (referred to as spatial mismatch),
!the characteristics of their families (e.g., labor force status and incarceration
of parents).
Accordingly, while education and training policies directed at raising the human
capital of youth may be a necessary step in promoting their integration in the labor
force, it is not likely a sufficient one.
The Neighborhood. An analysis that utilized data from the National
Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) and U.S. census tract information for 1980
and 1990 estimated that 14-22 year olds who grow up in metropolitan areas with
relatively high poverty rates have a lesser likelihood as adults of being employed in
the civilian economy or in the Armed Forces and a greater likelihood of not being in
the labor force. Being raised in a poor neighborhood appears to more adversely
affect young males, especially those in poor families, than females.33 Other research
similarly shows neighborhood effects can vary according to the characteristics of
youths. For example, another study based on NLSY data estimated that the adverse
impact on labor market attachment of young out-of-school males living in
disadvantaged metropolitan areas was harsher for those with less than 12 years of34

32Ib i d .
33Steven R. Holloway and Stephen Mulherin, “The Effect of Adolescent Neighborhood
Poverty on Adult Employment,” Journal of Urban Affairs, vol. 26, no. 4, 2004. (Hereafter
cited as Holloway and Mulherin, The Effect of Adolescent Neighborhood Poverty on Adult
34Bruce A. Weinberg, Patricia B. Reagan, and Jeffrey J. Yankow, “Do Neighborhoods

The labor market disadvantage from growing up in impoverished inner-city
neighborhoods, even among those who subsequently move, appears to partly operate
through limited accumulation of work experience. This finding led the researchers
to suggest that training programs might enable these youth to gain experience and
acquire “both the skills needed to accomplish work tasks and the more intangible soft
skills needed for effective relationships with employers, other employees, and
perhaps clients and/or customers.”35 Further, the provision of mentors might
compensate for the paucity of adult inner-city residents with jobs who can serve as
role models to youngsters in poor communities, and the provision of labor market
information might compensate for the dearth of job referral channels that rely on
personal contacts. These strategies might most benefit young females because more
of the neighborhood’s negative impact on employment outcomes was estimated to
function through work experience for them than for males. The analysts speculated
that the labor market disadvantages of 14-22 year old males growing up in
impoverished inner cities might more often operate through such other channels as
place/race discrimination by employers and encounters with the criminal justice
Kith and Kin. Ethnographic research illustrates that the nature of youth’s
personal contacts can influence their participation in the informal rather than formal
labor market. A juvenile’s membership in a gang may extend into an adulthood of
illegal activities or of joblessness due, in part, to the stigma of their own criminal
records and a lack of family- or community-based networks to steer them toward
opportunities in the legal rather than underground economy. While noting that
studies of the relationship between crime and social networks in the United States
“often are empirically and ideologically confounded by issues of race,” researchers
who utilized panel data on male adolescents (8-21 year olds) in a poor non-minority
neighborhood of London estimated
that early embeddedness among delinquent friends and in continuing delinquent
behaviors leads to adult unemployment. It indicates, further, that parental
criminality plays a more salient role in the development of early adult36
unemployment than parental unemployment.
Statistics for the United States similarly show “criminal behavior has a strong family
connection,” with more than one in ten 18-24 year old male prisoners having a parent

Affect Hours Worked? Evidence from Longitudinal Data,” Journal of Labor Economics,
vol. 22, no. 4, 2004. (Hereafter cited as Weinberg, Reagan, and Yankow, Do
Neighborhoods Matter?.)
35Holloway and Mulherin, The Effect of Adolescent Neighborhood Poverty on Adult
Employment, p. 449.
36John Hagan, “The Social Embeddedness of Crime and Unemployment,” Criminology, vol.

31, no. 4, 1993, pp. 486-487.

who served time and some three in ten having a sibling who served time.37 Two out
of three young prison inmates also report having friends who engaged in illegal
Since Congress time-limited participation in the Temporary Assistance for
Needy Families (TANF) program, many custodial parents (primarily mothers) of
adolescent welfare beneficiaries have obtained jobs. The above study’s results imply
that increased maternal employment might not accomplish as much as had been
hoped toward enhancing the labor market prospects of their offspring if parents have
criminal records and/or adolescents have delinquent friends. Its findings suggest a
role in increasing youth commitment to the workforce for programs aimed at
thwarting the development of anti-social behavior among children of incarcerated
parents (e.g., the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program of the Administration of
Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services).38 Further,
the reduced arrest rates of male participants in Job Corps’ residential as opposed to
nonresidential program suggests that part of the program’s success may be related to
temporarily removing young males from possibly harmful networks of family and
friends. 39
Place of Residence vis-à-vis Jobs. In addition to social isolation from
work due to a dearth of role models and job referral networks, geographic isolation
from fast-growing job-rich areas has been shown to affect youths’ employment
outcomes. Some analyses estimated that limited social access has a more adverse
impact than transport access. Nonetheless, the proximity of jobs to youths’ place of
residence still was found to affect their labor market involvement independent of
other factors.40 Consequently, forging closer connections between suburban labor
markets and inner cities—such as through changes to public transportation and
housing patterns—might raise the workforce participation of at-risk youth.
Implicit in this prescription, however, is the assumption that once minority
workers gain physical access to suburban employment centers, they will be on
an equal footing with white workers. Racial employment discrimination may in
fact be more severe in suburban job markets, where a larger percentage of a
firm’s clientele is white and a relatively lower share of businesses are minority-

37Richard B. Freeman, “Disadvantaged Young Men and Crime,” in David G. Blanchflower
and Richard B. Freeman (eds.), Youth Employment and Joblessness in Advanced Countries
(Chicago,: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 237.
38For further information, see CRS Report RL32633, Mentoring Programs Funded by the
Federal Government Dedicated to Disadvantaged Youth, by Edith Fairman Cooper.
39John Burghardt, Peter Z. Schochet, Sheena McConnell, et al., Does Job Corps Work?
Summary of the National Job Corps Study (Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research,
Inc., June 2001). Note: The arrest rates of females who participated in either Job Corps’
residential or nonresidential program was reduced.
40See for example Weinberg, Reagan, and Yankow, Do Neighborhoods Matter?; Katherine
M. O’Regan and John M. Quigley, “Where Youth Live: Economic Effects of Urban Space
on Employment Prospects,” Urban Studies, vol. 35, no. 7, 1998; and Steven Raphael, “Inter-
and Intra-Ethnic Comparisons of the Central City-Suburban Youth Employment
Differential,” Industrial & Labor Relationship Review, vol. 51, no. 3, Apr. 1998.

owned, than in the inner city. Any benefit to minority workers from improving
physical accessibility may be offset by intensified employment discrimination.
If this is the case, residential integration or public transportation improvements
may be less effective in boosting minority youth employment than policies that41
focus on rooting out discrimination or investing in the skills of minority youths.
Further, the urban/suburban distinction may understate the isolation from the
labor market that some youth experience. A study estimated that the average African
American 16-21 year old gains less than the average Latino, Asian, and white
youngster from proximity to fast-growing job centers in the suburbs. In addition, the
researchers determined that the suburban neighborhood in which the average black
youth lives has more poverty, a higher proportion of minority residents, lower
educational attainment, and a higher youth dropout rate compared to the suburban
neighborhoods of the average Latino, Asian, and white adolescent.42 Accordingly,
residential mobility programs that encourage poor families to move from the inner
core of sprawling metropolitan areas to improve their children’s educational and
employment opportunities may be stymied by housing segregation within the
suburbs. Better enforcement of policies to eliminate discrimination in the suburban
housing market and in mortgage lending might thus be considered part of a
comprehensive approach to improving the connection of at-risk youth to the
The success of residential mobility programs also is likely to depend upon a
sufficient supply of affordable housing in higher income communities. The federal
government has tested ways to deconcentrate poverty through the Section 8 voucher
housing program (e.g., the Moving to Opportunity Fair Housing Demonstration and
the Moving to Work Demonstration).43
Given the imbalance between the supply of and demand for affordable housing
in higher income communities as well as the reluctance of municipalities to lose
population, neighborhood workforce development and community/economic
development policies might be brought to bear as well. For example, the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development helps to fund YouthBuild, an
initiative featuring numerous community-based programs that train largely low-
income 16-24 year olds with limited educations in construction skills while they gain
work experience by building affordable housing and take classes to obtain a high
school (or equivalent) diploma. Some YouthBuild programs also receive support
from AmeriCorps.
Other workforce and community/economic development programs that do not
have youth as their focus could nonetheless mitigate the adverse neighborhood
effects previously discussed. But, improvements to an area that increase its
attractiveness as a business location might not lead to greater employment of area
residents regardless of age. Consequently, at the federal level, an income tax credit

41Ibid., p. 519.
42Ib i d .
43For more information see CRS Report RL31930, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher
Program: Funding and Related Issues, by Maggie McCarty.

is available to businesses that hire (among other hard-to-employ groups such as
members of families receiving TANF benefits) young residents of empowerment
zones, enterprise communities, and renewal communities.44
Concluding Remarks
Many of the youth employment and training programs that have been evaluated
show limited positive long-lasting effects on the subsequent employment and45
earnings experiences of their participants. If graduation from high school is
considered the minimal prerequisite for successful integration into the labor market,
then the K-12 educational system also seems to be failing a substantial share of the
youth population. Human capital development appears to be only a partial, albeit an
important, strategy in ameliorating youths’ classroom-to-workplace transition
Policies to directly or indirectly address the different dimensions of youth
development tend to operate in comparative isolation from one another. Some
analysts support training initiatives over educational initiatives and vice versa, with
both groups contending that improvements to youths’ skills could lead to fewer
pregnancies among unwed teenagers, fewer juveniles with criminal records, and more
youth contributing to the nation’s revenue base. Others are more supportive of, for
example, delinquency and pregnancy prevention programs which they argue could
lead to greater educational attainment and enhanced employment outcomes for youth.
As “[m]ost young people grow up in families, spend much of their time in schools,
and are surrounded by communities,” it would seem that “incorporating opportunities
for developmental outcomes into their lives demand coordinated efforts among these46

44For additional information see CRS Report RL30089, The Work Opportunity Tax Credit
(WOTC) and the Welfare-to-Work (WtW) Tax Credit, by Linda Levine.
45See for example Public/Private Ventures, Serving High-Risk Youth: Lessons from
Research and Programming, Philadelphia, PA, Sept. 2002; and Susan Jekielik, Stephanie
Cochran, and Elizabeth Hair, Employment Programs and Youth Development: A Synthesis
(Washington, DC: Child Trends, May 2002).
46Jacquelynne Eccles and Jennifer Appleton Gootman (eds.), Community Programs to
Promote Youth Development (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences Press, 2002),
p. 137.